The recreational vehicle industry, like the marine industry, saw all-time-high sales during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now leaders in both realms are working on ways to keep those newcomers in the fold, then apply the lessons learned to expand the customer base for years to come, according to a report by Soundings Trade Only, a business-to-business trade magazine covering the marine indsutry.
“We have our existing consumers who have returned to the lifestyle, as well as new segments that we know can significantly expand the market,” says Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “We’ve had a million first-time boat buyers [join the sport] since the beginning of the pandemic.”
Generally speaking, both the RV and marine industries are focused on two areas: tapping into a younger, more diverse pool of buyers than the historically older, white, male customer base for boats and RVs; and educating newcomers so they’ll have a better overall experience in the great outdoors. In some ways, the industries are doing similar outreach in these two areas, while in other ways, they’re testing alternative ideas to see what works best.
A More Diverse Audience
Data that the RV Industry Association collects shows a huge shift in the type of person buying recreational vehicles since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Some 11.2 million households own an RV. Prior to the pandemic, the average age of those owners was 53. In 2020, the average age dropped to 41. In 2021, it was down to 33, according to RVIA spokesperson Monika Geraci.
Traditionally, about 85% of RV buyers have been white. That also changed in the past few years. “When we look at the people who bought RVs for the first time, it looks more like census data,” Geraci says. “It’s gotten significantly more diverse.”
The marine industry also saw a drop in the age of boat buyers: By mid-2020, the number of buyers younger than 40 surpassed the number of buyers older than 60, according to Info-Link, which provides market intelligence about outdoor recreation. But unlike the RV industry, the marine industry’s diversity share stayed about the same, even with the influx of first-time buyers, Hugelmeyer says. “We went into the pandemic with a 16% diversity share. We came out with a 16% diversity share,” he says. “America is 40% diverse.”
Read the full report by Soundings Trade Only.